I lived in Hill College House freshman year, and it was an absolute blast. Although I was initially disappointed when I found out I would not be living in the Quadrangle, I warmed up to Hill once I felt the charm of its community atmosphere.
Architect Eero Saarinen designed the college house to have many common spaces and a central atrium to encourage residents to congregate outside of their individual rooms and socialize.
However, there are many aspects about Hill that turn people away — its small rooms, lack of air conditioning and prison-like exterior. Incoming freshmen have almost no incentive to choose Hill when they can opt for the Quad’s beautiful buildings, grassy areas and ideal location.
When I found out there were plans to build on Hill Field, I thought that sounded like a great idea. It’s one area of Penn that has a potential for major improvement. However, when I saw the plans, it looked to me like they were trying to build Hill 2.0. The plans consist of three new buildings situated on the outer edges of Hill Field. Though the plans minimally improve the area by enclosing Hill Field from the street, the buildings themselves look like public housing. Do we really need another college house that will increase applications to the Quad? Is this the best we can do?
As an aspiring architect, I have come up with a counterproposal to Penn’s current plans for Hill Field. My proposal is for a multi-use dorm with dorm rooms, a student center, lecture halls, classrooms, athletic facilities, a library and even an auditorium. In essence, it is a campus within a campus.
This “mini-campus” would improve the block where Hill is currently located in many ways. First, it would break down the mega scale of Hill Field by creating quads and walkways. The large field that currently sits outside of Hill does not get used very often because it is too large. When a space is too large, people often do not know what to do with it. Where do you sit when you have a whole open field to yourself?
Consider the space outside Van Pelt Library. It is much smaller than Hill Field, but you can always find people sitting in the grass on a nice day. Its central location, small area and buzzing environment make it an inviting place to hang out. I attempted to achieve these same qualities in my proposal, allowing people to find a sense of place in the smaller spaces it creates.
The buildings of the mini-campus also bring different functions to the area other than just dormitories, attracting a diverse group of students and hosting a variety of activities. For example, how would it be if one of the quads was surrounded not only by student dorms, but by music practice rooms? You could lie on the grass on a beautiful spring day, talk to your friends and listen to a free live show.
What if there were tables outside of the library, which was a 15-second walk from your dorm room? I imagine this would make work more enjoyable and bring more students to the library.
Finally, how about mixing up the different groups on campus? The close proximity of the lecture halls, athletic facilities and auditorium would allow athletes, scholars and artists to live together and exchange ideas.
This proposal is all about building a place that would bring life to a new area of campus that seems to be currently overlooked. It would be a place where students would love to hang out as opposed to a place where students simply pass through because they live there and have no choice.
The cafes and shops across the street on Sansom Street could now extend into Hill Field, bringing even more traffic and charm to the area. The student center could act as an alternative to Houston Hall. Think about the Radian — the number of restaurants that have sprung up since it opened is astounding. Bringing an attractive new place to live to an area of campus clearly has a positive effect on the area around it. Hill Field has the potential to be something great — let’s not ruin our chance.